Contributor: Elizabeth Chege

Archival Impulse by Ayana V. Jackson
29th August – 7th October 2013,

The much anticipated new exhibition by American artist Ayana Jackson will be opening on August 29th in Johannesburg at Gallery MOMO and will run until 7th October 2013.






Archival Impulse: The real work of this series does not exist in physical form. It exists in the imaginary; in the space between my reference images, the spectator’s private thoughts/memories/associations, and the reenactments themselves.

At its core, it considers the chapter of photographic history that was underscored by the period of colonial expansion. It considers the role photography played in the architecture of racialized thinking. It considers the potentially violent exchanges between photographer and “subject”, while at the same time considering other interactions between them and looking for traces of agency.

Archival Impulse takes its name from Hal Foster’s idea that by confronting the archive new systems of knowledge can be created. In this case I confront late 19th and early 20th century photographs taken during the period of European colonial expansion. To do this I draw on images sourced from the Duggan Cronin collection created in South Africa, the works of unknown photographers practicing throughout the global south at the time, as well as documentation of reconstructed villages and “native” performers that were touring in Europe’s Human Zoos.

The scholarship of Susan Sontag, Elizabeth Edwards, Okwui Enwezor, Jennifer Bjorek, Pascal Blancher, and Tamar Garb are also informative.   In reading and comparing these texts I have found multiple angles for entering, interpreting and appropriating my reference materials. As visual experiments these final images aim to draw out the multiple ways the originals can be read: ethnographic, anthropologic, pornographic, historical documents, curiosities, etc.

My process involves identifying reoccurring motifs in the original images, interrogating them, performing them, and last, reconstructing them. My primary intervention is in my deliberate choice not to situate the “subjects” in the scenario.

I do this first to bring attention to the fact that these early photographs are theatrical performances written and directed by the photographer and subject alike and as such are fictitious; second to ask questions around the photograph’s potential as agent of propaganda; and last, if not most importantly, to transform this theater into a space where new narratives might emerge.